3:16 — Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs .…
The “you” Paul has in mind here is plural—“you” as in “all of you in the church of Jesus.” We cannot grow into maturity in Christ Jesus without the encouragement, help, and even the needs of others.
The Word of Christ
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (3:16)
The word of Christ refers to the revelation He brought into the world, which is Scripture. Peace and thankfulness, as well as unity, love, and all the required virtues, flow from a mind controlled by Scripture. Dwell is from enoikeō and means “to live in,” or “to be at home.” Paul calls upon believers to let the Word take up residence and be at home in their lives. Plousiōs (richly) could also be translated “abundantly or extravagantly rich.” The truths of Scripture should permeate every aspect of the believer’s life and govern every thought, word, and deed. The Word dwells in us when we hear it (Matt. 13:9), handle it (2 Tim. 2:15), hide it (Ps. 119:11), and hold it fast (Phil. 2:16). To do those things, the Christian must read, study, and live the Word. To let the word of Christ richly dwell is identical to being filled with the Spirit (cf. Eph. 5:18). The Word in the heart and mind is the handle by which the Spirit turns the will. It is clear that these two concepts are identical because the passages that follow each are so similar.
Colossians 3:18–4:1 is a more brief parallel to Ephesians 5:19–6:9. The result of being filled with the Holy Spirit is the same as the result of letting the Word dwell in one’s life richly. Therefore, the two are the same spiritual reality viewed from two sides. To be filled with the Spirit is to be controlled by His Word. To have the Word dwelling richly is to be controlled by His Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit is the author and the power of the Word, the expressions are interchangeable.
Paul then mentions two specific results of the Word of Christ dwelling in the believer, one positive and the other negative: with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another. Teaching is the impartation of positive truth. Admonishing is the negative side of teaching. It means to warn people of the consequences of their behavior. Both are the result of a life overflowing with the Word of Christ.
Having the Word of Christ richly dwell in us produces not only information, but also emotion. It generates psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, and singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Psalms were taken from the Old Testament psalter, the book of Psalms. They sang psalms put to music, much as we do today. Hymns were expressions of praise to God. It is thought that some portions of the New Testament (such as Col. 1:15–20 and Phil. 2:6–11) were originally hymns sung in the early church. Spiritual songs emphasized testimony (cf. Rev. 5:9–10). They express in song what God has done for us. (For more details on this theme, see my commentary, Ephesians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 1986].)
Commentators are divided on whether chariti (thankfulness) should be translated “thankfulness” (as in the NIV and NASB) or “grace” (As in the KJV). Perhaps its use here encompasses both ideas: believers sing out of thankfulness for God’s grace. When Paul tells believers to sing in your hearts he does not mean not to sing with the voice. His concern is that the heart agree with the mouth (cf. Amos 5:23). Singing is to be directed to God as praise and worship offered to Him for His pleasure and glory. That it is edifying to believers is a byproduct of its main purpose.
16 The thankfulness to which Paul calls the Colossians was to be enthusiastically expressed in their corporate worship (cf. Lincoln, 648). Paul enjoins the assembly gathered for worship to “let the word of Christ dwell in [or among] [them] richly.” Like “peace of Christ” in v. 15, “word of Christ” is unparalleled in the NT (cf., however, 1 Th 1:8; 4:15: “the word of the Lord”). (Additionally, as with “the peace of Christ,” some later copyists altered “the word of Christ” to read “the word of God” or “the word of the Lord.”) While “the word of Christ” may refer to instruction proceeding from Christ (i.e., Jesus tradition), it more likely speaks of the message pertaining to Christ (i.e., the gospel; cf. 1:5, 29; so O’Brien, 206)—though arguably a wedge should not be driven too firmly between these alternatives (cf. Abbott, 290; Bruce, 157; Houlden, 207; Moule, 125; Dunn, 236). The proclamation of Christ, not the veneration of angels, was to be central in the Colossians’ worship (cf. Lincoln, 648; Dunn, 235–36). “The gospel is to have its gracious and glorious way in their lives” (O’Brien, 207).
The congregation is encouraged to let this word dwell, live, or abide richly in their midst as an operative, transformative force (cf. Harris, 167). How is it that “the word of Christ” is to make its home among the community? The answer appears to be, by means of the assembly’s ministry of teaching, admonishing, and singing. (The Greek syntax of this verse is complex and has occasioned much discussion [and confusion!] among commentators; cf. Moule, 125–26; Harris, 166–70.) Though Epaphras played a pivotal role in founding and instructing the Colossian assembly (1:7; 4:12; cf. Phm 23), he was not the only one who was meant to function in a teaching capacity. Notwithstanding the fact that Paul was an apostle grasped by God to admonish and teach all people in all wisdom (1:28), mutual, thoughtful, tactful instruction and admonition were privileges and responsibilities entrusted to the entire congregation (cf. Garland, 242; Lohse, 150–51).
It is possible that church members were meant to instruct and correct one another by means of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (so NASB; cf. Eph 5:19). However, psalms, hymns, and songs may simply be descriptive of the various forms of congregational singing (so NIV). Even if one cannot say with certainty which reading is most likely on grammatical grounds (cf. Moule, 125; O’Brien, 208–9)—though I favor the NIV’s translation here (so also Dunn, 211, 237)—one may note that a positive, mutually reinforcing link is to exist between the church’s teaching and singing (cf. Bruce, 158; Houlden, 208; Lincoln, 649; Lohse, 151). The songs of the church can be both instructive/cognitive and responsive/emotive (cf. Lincoln, 651).
It is best not to try to differentiate too sharply among psalms (cf. 1 Co 14:26), hymns (cf. Ac 16:25; Heb 2:12), and songs (cf. Rev 5:9; 14:3; 15:3; so, rightly, Garland, 212; O’Brien, 209; Lohse, 151). From our vantage point, these three terms appear to be more or less synonymous (so also Dunn, 238–39, who nonetheless contends that “some range of songs is presumably in view, unless we assume that the authors are being needlessly tautologous”; cf. Lincoln, 649, who notes, “They are the three most common terms for religious songs in the LXX, where they are used interchangeably”). Regardless of those nuances now lost on us, these songs are depicted as “spiritual.” (Whether or not the adjective pneumatikos, “spiritual,” GK 4461, is meant to modify “psalms,” “hymns,” and “songs,” or merely “songs,” is an open question, though it arguably applies to all three nouns [so also O’Brien, 210; Lincoln, 649; Lohse, 151].) Some of these songs were probably set (cf. 1:15–20 [?]), while others were likely spontaneous and even glossalalic (cf. Dunn, 239). Taken together, these three terms reveal the rich variety of praise in the worship of the Pauline churches in particular, if not of the early church in general. Whatever the precise form and content of these songs, they were to be sung with a thankful or grateful heart toward God. Gratitude should well up within believers for the grace that God has bestowed on them in the Beloved (cf. Lohse, 152).
3:16 / Here is a verse loaded with important truths. Paul has just spoken about the peace of Christ that is to rule in the believers’ hearts (3:15). Now he turns to another aspect of Christ, namely, the word of Christ. This phrase, taken as an objective genitive in Greek, means the words about Christ, that is, the gospel.
The word of Christ is to dwell within the believer and can do so either richly or feebly. Although the gospel certainly is “rich” in meaning, content, and so on, the Greek adverb richly definitely is intended to characterize the manner in which Christ’s message is to inhabit the believer: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.
The indwelling word will manifest itself in two ways: First, the Colossians are exhorted to teach and admonish one another with all wisdom. This is a pedagogical process (cf. 1:28) in which all members share responsibility. In light of Paul’s ministry as a teacher and Epaphras’ as a transmitter of tradition, this verse should not be taken to imply a deficiency in these church leaders.
The second manifestation of the word of Christ is in worship. Considerable research has gone into analyzing the different components mentioned, so it is not unusual for commentators to suggest that psalms (psalmois) may have their heritage in the Old Testament; hymns (hymnois) could include psalms but may be more Christian songs of praise to God or Christ; spiritual songs (ōdais) may be musical compositions originating from ecstatic utterances under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 14:16).
On the basis of this passage and a similar one in Ephesians 5:19, it is not possible to establish distinctions with any precision, even though there is a certain diversity about the three. It does help one to appreciate both the richness of Christian hymnody even at this early stage of the church’s life and the function of music within the context of worship. When such music is grounded in the word of God (i.e., doctrinal in content), it definitely serves a teaching and instructional function within the body.
Singing is to be expressed in a spirit of gratitude. Music may edify the members of a congregation, but its primary function is to render thanks to God. The word translated gratitude is charis, not the more common eucharistia. charis can also mean “grace,” and with the inclusion of the article (en tē chariti), Paul may be referring to the grace of God. When Christians sing “in the grace,” they sing by virtue of the grace of God which is theirs. (The niv rightly uses God rather than “Lord,” which has weaker manuscript evidence and probably represents an attempt to harmonize it with Eph. 5:19.)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you (verse 16)
As usual in this letter Paul takes every opportunity to stress the centrality and sufficiency of Christ. Elsewhere, in a parallel passage, he can write to the believers about letting the Holy Spirit fill them. In Paul’s teaching there is never any question of Word and Spirit being separately experienced. The coming of the Word of God in the gospel is the coming of the Spirit, and the coming of the Spirit is the coming of the living and abiding Word of God. Therefore, to enjoy the fullness of the Spirit, a Christian must necessarily be filled with the word of Christ.
A Christian community is happy, therefore, if the word of Christ is richly, that is abundantly, available. But it may well be that the visitors looked to other sources by which a ‘word’ from God might come their way (cf. 2:4, 18, 20–22). If so (and how else did they get their authoritative messages?), this must have greatly influenced the teaching they gave, and the type of songs they used for praise: instead of being characterized by the word of Christ, there would be a significant admixture of human doctrines, i.e. of religious traditionalism.
For the apostle, therefore, the word of Christ must control all the ministries of the local church. First, there is the ministry of teaching. It is intriguing, in view of modern interest in lay ministry, that the work of teaching and admonishing, described in 1:28 as Paul’s major function, is here said to be the work of the local congregation, the people (laos) of God in one place. How could it be otherwise? A responsibility so vast must be shared. But it will not be carried out in all wisdom, that is with sufficient balance and relevance (1:9ff.) if the local congregation itself is not firmly under the word of Christ.
Secondly, there is the ministry of praise. Paul likes to pile synonyms together, although words that appear synonymous (e.g. as here, teach and admonish) sometimes carry different emphases. In the case of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs we shall be wise not to attempt a differentiation, for since the time of Jerome the problem has been debated, and is still unsolved! What is at issue here is the content of the young church’s hymns. The history of Christian awakening shows that whenever the word of Christ is recovered, it is received with great joy, a joy that can fully express itself only with songs of praise. What the apostle is concerned to see is that these songs are consistent with the word of Christ, or as we are bound to say nowadays, scriptural. A fair test of this is to be found by whether or not they echo a heartfelt spirit of thankfulness: genuine Christian praise is not primarily a vehicle for the expression of spiritual aspirations and experiences, so much as a celebration of God’s mighty acts in Christ. Lohse has an interesting comment on the normal translation:
This translation cannot account for the definite article which specifies charis as God’s bestowal of grace which gives life to the believers. The phrase en tē chariti reminds the readers of sola gratia (by grace alone) which is the sole basis of existence and creates the realm in which Christian life can exist and develop. This is the reason why God is praised.
Very well. A gospel of grace (1:6) must be echoed by songs of gratitude for grace.
3:16. If believers are to be transformed into the character of Christ, the word of Christ should find a home in our hearts. It should not come and go, show up occasionally, or be something we visit like a vacation spot. As Eugene Peterson translates this phrase, “Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives” (Peterson, 504).
The parallel between Colossians 3:16–4:1 and Ephesians 5:18–6:9 must not be missed. The structure and terminology are almost identical. The Ephesians passage exhorts believers to be filled with the Spirit, whereas the Colossians passage exhorts believers to let the Word of Christ dwell in them. The two concepts must be synonymous. The external results are the same. The internal effect is the same. The believer is to be “under the influence” of the word of Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit. The reason for the Colossians’ emphasis on Christ is expected in a book so devoted to his centrality and supremacy. Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in hearts to God (v. 16). When the word of Christ finds a comfortable home in individual believers and in the new community, there will be teaching (positive instruction), admonishing one another (negative correction), and thankful worship, evidenced by singing and gratitude.
16. Paul has just been saying. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” At first glance a believer might well ask, however, “If I do this am I not building the edifice of my hope and trust upon a rather insecure, subjective foundation?” After further thought, however, he answers, “Not at all, for I have peace when in my inmost being I, by God’s sovereign grace, resolve to live in accordance with the objective word of Christ.” Verses 15 and 16 must therefore not be separated. By obedience to the gospel peace is conveyed to the heart. So Paul continues, Let the word of Christ dwell among you richly. The objective, special revelation that proceeds from (and concerns) Christ—“the Christ-word”—should govern every thought, word, and deed, yes even the hidden drives and motivations of every member, and thus should bear sway among them all, and this richly, “bearing much fruit” (John 15:5). This will happen if believers heed the word (Matt. 13:9), handle it rightly (2 Tim. 2:15), hide it in their hearts (Ps. 119:11), and hold it forth to others as being in truth “the word of life” (Phil. 2:16). Though when the apostle wrote this, “the word of Christ” had not yet been entrusted to the written page in the form and to the extent in which we now have it, this does not cancel the fact that for Paul and for all believers in his day as well as, in broader scope, for us today, “All scripture (is) God-breathed and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be equipped, for every good work thoroughly equipped” (see N.T.C. on 2 Tim. 3:16, 17). The logical continuation is: in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another.137
For the explanation of these words see on 1:28, where essentially the same thought is expressed in an almost identical statement. The differences are as follows: (1) in 1:28 the apostle relates what he, Timothy, etc., are doing; here (in Col. 3:16) he admonishes the Colossian believers what they should be doing. In both cases the content is the same: admonishing and teaching. Believers, by virtue of their “office” as believers—let them not forget that they are clothed with that office!—should do what Paul and his associates are doing by virtue of their office, respectively as apostle and apostolic delegates. Each person must do it in accordance with the rights and duties of his particular office. (2) In 1:28 the object is somewhat broader, “every man.” Here (Col. 3:16) the emphasis is rather on mutual teaching and admonition. And (3) in 1:28 the phrase “in all wisdom” is placed last. In the Colossian passage it is placed first, perhaps to underscore the thought conveyed in the immediately preceding adverb “richly,” as if to say, “If the word of Christ is to dwell among you richly, then in all wisdom you should admonish and teach each other.”
There is something else that should also be done if the word of Christ is to dwell among the Colossians richly. It is stated in these words: (and) by means of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs singing to God in a thankful spirit,139 with all your heart.
Paul clearly recognizes the edifying nature of God-glorifying singing. As to the meaning of the terms psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (see also Eph. 5:19) a little investigation quickly shows that it may not be easy to distinguish sharply between these three. It is possible that there is here some overlapping of meanings. Thus, in connection with psalms it is natural to think of the Old Testament Psalter, and, in support of this view, to appeal to Luke 20:42; 24:44; Acts 1:20; 13:33. So far there is no difficulty. However, expositors are by no means agreed that this can also be the meaning of the word psalm in 1 Cor. 14:26 (“When you assemble, each one has a psalm”).
As to hymns, in the New Testament the word hymn is found only in our present passage (Col. 3:16) and in Eph. 5:19. Augustine, in more than one place, states that a hymn has three essentials: it must be sung; it must be praise; it must be to God. According to this definition it would be possible for an Old Testament psalm, sung in praise to God, to be also a hymn. Thus when Jesus and his disciples were about to leave the Upper Room in order to go to the Mount of Olives, they “hymned” (Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26). It is held by many that what they hymned was Psalm 115–118. According to Acts 16:25 in the Philippian prison Paul and Silas were hymning to God. Is it not altogether probable that some, if not all, of these hymns were psalms? Cf. also Heb. 2:12. But if Augustine’s definition is correct there are also hymns that do not belong to the Old Testament Psalter; such hymns as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46–55) and the Benedictus (Luke 1:68–79). Fragments of other New Testament hymns seem to be embedded in the letters of Paul (Eph. 5:14; Col. 1:15–20; 1 Tim. 3:16, and perhaps others).
The word song or ode (in the sense of poem intended to be sung) occurs not only in Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 but also in Rev. 5:9; 14:3, where “the new song” is indicated, and in Rev. 15:3, where the reference is to “the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb,” These are not Old Testament Psalms. Moreover, a song or ode is not necessarily a sacred song. In the present case the fact that it is, indeed, sacred is shown by the addition of the adjective spiritual.
All in all, then, it would seem that when here in Col. 3:16 the apostle uses these three terms, apparently distinguishing them at least to some extent, the term psalms has reference, at least mainly, to the Old Testament Psalter; hymns mainly to New Testament songs of praise to God or to Christ; and spiritual songs mainly to any other sacred songs dwelling on themes other than direct praise to God or to Christ.
The point that must not be ignored is this, that these songs must be sung in a thankful spirit. The songs must be poured forth sincerely, rising from within the humbly grateful hearts of believers. It has been said that next to Scripture itself a good Psalter-Hymnal is the richest fountain of edification. Not only are its songs a source of daily nourishment for the church, but they also serve as a very effective vehicle for the outpouring of confession of sin, gratitude, spiritual joy, rapture. Whether sung in the regular worship-service on the Lord’s Day, at a midweek meeting, in social gatherings, in connection with family-worship, at a festive occasion, or privately, they are a tonic for the soul and promote the glory of God. They do this because they fix the interest upon the indwelling word of Christ, and carry the attention away from that worldly cacophony by which people with low moral standards are being emotionally overstimulated.
The passage under discussion has often been used in support of this or that theory with respect to what may or may not be sung in the official worship-service. Perhaps it is correct to say that the appeal is justified if one is satisfied with a few broad, general principles; for example, (1) In our services the psalms should not be neglected. (2) As to hymns, in the stricter sense of songs of praise, “It is probably true that a larger proportion of the religious poems which are used in public praise should be ‘hymns’ in the stricter sense. They should be addressed to God. Too many are subjective, not to say sentimental, and express only personal experiences and aspirations which are sometimes lacking in reality” Charles E. Erdman (op. cit., p. 91).
For the rest, it is well to bear in mind that Paul’s purpose is not to lay down detailed rules and regulations pertaining to ecclesiastical liturgy. He is interested in showing the Colossians and all those to whom or by whom the letter would be read how they may grow in grace, and may manifest rightly the power of the indwelling word. His admonition, therefore, can be applied to every type of Christian gathering, whether on the Sabbath or during the week, whether in church or at home or anywhere else.
16. As the Colossians were exhorted to let the peace of Christ rule their lives (v 15), so now they are admonished to let the Word of Christ (ὁ λόγος τοῦ Χριστοῦ is parallel to ἡ εἰρηνη τοῦ Χριστοῦ, “the peace of Christ”) dwell richly among them. The expression, “the Word of Christ” (ὁ λόγος τοῦ Χριστοῦ), is used here instead of “the Word” (ὁ λόγος, 4:3), “the Word of God” (ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ, 1:25) or “the Word of the Lord” (λόγος κυρίου, 1 Thess 4:15; 2 Thess 3:1). The change from “of God” or “of the Lord” may have been due to the Colossian situation; certainly the present expression is in keeping with the rest of the letter with its emphasis on the person and work of Christ (von Soden, 64, and Abbott, 290). While the genitive “of Christ” (τοῦ Χριστοῦ) might be subjective indicating that Christ himself is the speaker when his word is proclaimed (cf. Lightfoot, 222, Meyer, 447, Bruce, 283), it is probably objective referring to the message that centers on Christ, that Word of truth or gospel (ὁ λόγος τῆς ἀληθείας τοῦ εὐαγγελίου, 1:5; cf. Gal 1:7; 1 Cor 9:12; 2 Cor 2:12) which came to the Colossians and took up a firm place in their lives from the time Epaphras first preached it to them. As such it is normative and ought to control their lives.
That Word is to dwell richly in their midst. ἐνοικέω (“live in,” “dwell in,” “indwell”; so BAG, 267) appears only in a metaphorical sense in the New Testament (all six occurrences are in the Pauline corpus). So God himself will dwell among his people (2 Cor 6:16 citing Lev 26:11, 12), and the Holy Spirit dwells in believers (Rom 8:11 [cf. v 9]; 2 Tim 1:14; cf. 1 Cor 3:16). Not only the Word of Christ but also faith (2 Tim 1:5) may be said to dwell among God’s own (contrast Rom 7:17 regarding the indwelling sin). ἐν ὑμῖν has been taken to mean “in your hearts” (so Lightfoot, 222, who understands the statement to refer to “the presence of Christ in the heart as an inward monitor”), “among you” (Masson, 147; cf. Schrage, Einzelgebote, 91) or “in you,” that is, “in your church …, as a whole, being compared to a house, in which the word has the seat of its abiding operation and rule” (Meyer, 448; cf. Abbott, 290). Bruce, 283, claims that Paul would not have wished to be pinned down too firmly to the alternatives of either “within you” (as individual Christians) or “among you” (as a Christian community). He does add, however, that “if one of the two had to be accepted, the collective sense might be preferred in view of the context.” πλουσίως (“richly,” “abundantly”) describes the manner of the Word’s indwelling. Elsewhere in the epistles this adverb is found in statements which describe God’s gracious and rich bestowal of his gifts: at 1 Timothy 6:17 it is used of “God who richly (πλουσίως) furnishes us with everything to enjoy,” in contrast to the “rich in this world”; while at Titus 3:6 the Holy Spirit is “poured out upon us richly (πλουσίως) through Jesus Christ our Savior,” and in 2 Peter 1:11 an “entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly (πλουσίως) provided.” Here in Colossians πλουσίως (“richly”) appears within an exhortation: the gospel is to have its gracious and glorious way in their lives. If the double reference of ἐν ὑμῖν (“within you” and “among you”) is in view then this rich indwelling would occur when they came together, listened to the Word of Christ as it was preached and expounded to them (see Schrage, Einzelgebote, 91, Ernst, 229, and Schweizer, 157) and bowed to its authority. By this means Christ’s rule would be exercised in their lives. As the Spirit of God indwells believers (Rom 8:9, 11; 2 Tim 1:14; cf. 1 Cor 3:16) so the “Word of Christ” should reside among them in rich abundance, producing great blessing (cf. Ernst, 229, and Lohse, 150).
ἐν πάσῃ σοφίᾳ διδάσκοντες καὶ νουθετοῦντες ἑαυτούς κτλ. As the word of Christ richly indwells the Colossians, so by means of its operation they will “teach and admonish one another in all wisdom by means of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (this lengthy clause gives a modal definition of the preceding, so Meyer, 448). “Teaching and admonishing” (διδάσκονρες καὶ νουθετοῦντες; some exegetes consider that these dependent participles occur with an imperatival force, so Lightfoot, 222, Lohse, 150, etc; if they are taken as true participles then the nominative plurals following the subject ὁ λόγος τοῦ Χριστοῦ, “the word of Christ,” are constructed according to sense, so Turner, Syntax, 230, cf. Meyer, 448, and note the similar instance at 2:2—either way the teaching and admonition in all wisdom arise from the indwelling of the word, cf. Delling, TDNT 8, 498, Ernst, 229, and Dunn, Jesus, 237) were previously mentioned as activities of Paul and his co-workers, for it was by such instruction and admonition that the public proclamation of Christ as Lord was effected (see on 1:28). Here, however, it is the members of the congregation (so most commentators including Behm, TDNT 4, 1022 [cf. Rom 15:14; 1 Thess 5:14], but contrast Schrage, Einzelgebote, 137) who teach and admonish one another (ἑαυτούς, “yourselves,” which does not really differ from ἀλλήλους, “one another,” being reflexive in a reciprocal sense [so Robertson, Grammar, 690, BDF para. 287, Turner, Syntax, 43], binds the two participles together). The phrase “in all wisdom” (ἐν πάσῃ σοφίᾳ) is attached to the following words indicating the manner in which the teaching and admonition are to occur (although Lightfoot, 221, 222, argued that the phrase, on the basis of 1:9; Eph 1:8; 5:18, 19, should be taken with the preceding clause [cf. av, rv], the other alternative is favored by the sense of 1:28, where teaching and admonition occur in all wisdom, and it is balanced by ἐν χάριτι αᾄδοντες, “singing with grace or thankfulness,” so asv, rsv, neb, niv; cf. Bruce, 283, Lohse, 151, Schweizer, 157), that is, in a thoughtful and tactful manner (Bruce, 283; see also Bratcher and Nida, 90).
The motif of wisdom (σοφία) turns up on several occasions in Colossians: so Paul prays that the Colossians might be filled with a knowledge of God’s will, and the perception of that will consists in wisdom (ἐν πάσῃ σοφίᾳ) and understanding of every sort, on the spiritual level (1:9). At chapter 1:28 the apostolic ministry of admonition and teaching is effected “in all wisdom” (ἐν πάσῃ σοφίᾳ). In Christ all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge have been stored up (2:3), while by contrast the taboos which the false teachers propounded were merely human inventions having only the appearance of wisdom (2:23, λόγον … σοφίας). At chapter 4:5 “wisdom” has to do with practical and realistic behavior in Christians’ dealings with those outside the congregation. Here at chapter 3:16 it is possible that the phrase “in all wisdom” (ἐν πάσῃ σοφίᾳ), as at chapter 1:28, stands in contrast to the heretics’ claim to wisdom. At the same time this true wisdom, for which Paul had previously prayed, shows itself in a practical way: the teaching and admonition are given in a thoughtful and tactful manner.
ψαλμοῖς, ὕμνοις, ᾠδαῖς πνευματικαῖς. This mutual instruction and warning are to take place “by means of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” The asv punctuates the sentence along these lines (cf. also the av and rv) although the rsv renders the Greek “and as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (cf. niv) so linking these three nouns with the following participle ᾄδοντες (“singing”). It is not patently clear as to which is the correct interpretation and commentators are as divided on the point as the versions (so, for example, Delling, TDNT 8, 498, Lohse, 136, 151, Schweizer, 153, and Barrels, NIDNTT 3, 675, link the noun with the following participles, while Meyer, 448, Lightfoot, 222, Percy, Probleme, 395, and Bruce, 283, 284, opt for the other alternative). Our preference for joining “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” with “teaching and admonishing one another” is for the following reasons: (a) the two participial clauses ἐν πάσῃ σοφίᾳ διδάσκοντες … (“in all wisdom teaching …”) and ἐν (τῇ) χάριτι ᾄδοντες … (“with thanksgiving [or grace] singing …”) are symmetrically balanced with their prepositional phrases (both commencing with ἐν, “in”) at the head of each clause and the participles immediately following (cf. Meyer, 448). By contrast the other alternative with ψαλμοῖς κτλ. being attached to the following involves an overweighting of the final participial clause (a criticism noted by Bruce, 284). (b) The rsv rendering necessitates the insertion of “and” before “singing” (ᾄδοντες, cf. niv) but this does not appear in the original (cf. Schweizer, 157, against Delling, TDNT 8, 498). (c) The parallel passage in Ephesians 5:19 (which interestingly enough the rsv renders as “addressing [λαλοῦντες)] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart”) gives the same general sense as our interpretation. (d) The objection that mutual teaching and admonition would not take place in such psalms, hymns and spiritual songs is not valid. If the apostle had in mind antiphonal praise or solo singing for mutual edification in church meetings (Bruce, 284) then mutual instruction and exhortation could well have been possible. Further, recent study of NT hymnody (note the bibliography to 1:15–20 and see also R. P. Martin, “Approaches to New Testament Exegesis,” New Testament Interpretation. Essays on Principles and Methods, ed. I. H. Marshall [Exeter: Paternoster, 1977] 235–41 American edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977) has shown that within early Christian hymns both didactic and hortatory elements featured.
It is not possible to distinguish sharply between each of the three terms “psalms,” “hymns” and “songs” (so most recent writers, cf. Schlier, TDNT 1, 164, and note Lohse’s treatment, 151; against Lightfoot, 222, 223). ψαλμός (“song of praise,” “psalm,” BAG, 891; cf. Delling, TDNT 8, 489–503, and Bartels, NIDNTT 3, 668–76) is employed by Luke of the OT psalms (Luke 20:42; 24:44; Acts 1:20; 13:33) though it came to be used more generally of a song of praise (1 Cor 14:26; Eph 5:19) of which the OT psalms were probably regarded as spiritual prototypes (on the basis of the original meaning of ψάλλω to “pluck [hair],” “twang” a bow-string, and then “pluck” a harp or any other stringed instrument, some have thought that ψαλμός inevitably meant a song sung to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument; but this restriction is unnecessary, cf. Bruce, 284, and Delling, TDNT 8, 499). At 1 Corinthians 14:26 ψαλμός may be a newly coined “song of praise” prompted by the Spirit and sung with thankful rejoicing by a member of the congregation. Bartels (NIDNTT 3, 671, 672) suggests that such songs of praise “will include free compositions as well as repeated liturgical fragments …, and also new Christian songs (which may well have been modelled on the Psalms of the OT and of later Judaism …), such as we know from the wording of the various songs of Rev.” ὕμνος, a general term in Biblical literature, denotes any “festive hymn of praise” (LXX Isa 42:10; 1 Macc 13:51; cf. Acts 16:25; Heb 2:12) though in its two NT occurrences it refers to an expression of praise to God or Christ (here and Eph 5:19). ᾠδή (“song,” BAG, 895) is used in the NT of the song in which God’s acts are praised and glorified (cf. Rev 5:9; 14:3; 15:3). Although firm distinctions cannot be drawn between the terms nor can an exact classification of NT hymns be made on the basis of the different words (so Delling, TDNT 8, 499, and Worship in the New Testament. Tr P. Scott [London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1962] 86, 87, and Martin, NCB, 116) taken together these three words “psalms,” “hymns” and “songs” describe “the full range of singing which the Spirit prompts” (Lohse, 151; while the adjective πνευματικαῖς “prompted by the Spirit, consistent with Greek usage, agrees grammatically with the last term ᾠδαῖς, “songs,” it refers to all three nouns). As the word of Christ indwells the members of the community and controls them so they teach and admonish one another in Spirit-inspired psalms, hymns and songs (whatever the precise musical form is, see W. S. Smith, Musical Aspects of the New Testament [Amsterdam: Have, 1962]).
ἐν [τῇ] χάριτι ᾄδοντες ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν τῷ θεῷ. These words may specify another result of the rich indwelling of the word of Christ (Meyer, 450, prefers this interpretation in which the clause is taken as co-ordinate with the preceding), or they may denote the attitude or disposition which is to accompany the previously mentioned instruction and admonition, that is, as the Colossians teach one another in psalms, hymns and songs inspired by the Spirit, so they are to sing thankfully to God with their whole being (on this view the participial clause ἐν [τῇ] χάριτι ᾄδοντες, “singing gratefully,” is subordinate to the preceding; note the discussions of von Soden, 64 and Abbott, 292). Although it is difficult to be certain, our preference is for the latter since it links the singing with the teaching through song. If the participial clauses had been co-ordinated one might have expected a καί, “and,” to have been inserted. From the context it is clear that both the instruction and the disposition which should accompany it arise from the rich indwelling of the Word. The expression ἐν τῆ χάριτι could mean “gratefully” (i.e. with thanksgiving), “by the grace (of God)” or “in the (realm of God’s) grace,” (cf. Moule, 125, 126), and the presence or absence of the article Τῇ (“the”), about which the manuscripts are divided, does not finally settle the issue (so Moule, 125, 126, and RevExp 70  493; against Lohse, 152, who contends that the definite article specifies χάρις as “God’s bestowal of grace which gives life to the believers. The phrase ἐν [χάριτι] reminds the readers of sola gratia (by grace alone) which is the sole basis of existence and creates the realm in which the Christian life can exist and develop.” cf. Dibelius-Greeven, 45, and Schmauch, 82). Each of these renderings falls within the range of meanings χάρις (“grace”; cf. BAG, 877, 878, and Schweizer, 158) and perhaps one ought not to distinguish between them too sharply. However, since the note of thanksgiving is an important theme in the section, appearing at verses 15 and 17, it is just possible that thankfulness, our proper response to God’s grace, is in view once again. ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν does not specify an inward disposition as though the apostle is speaking of silent worship in contrast to “with your voices.” As in verse 15 καρδία (“heart”) is employed to refer to the whole of one’s being. “Man should not only praise God with his lips. The entire man should be filled with songs of praise” (Lohse, 151).
16. Let the word of Christ dwell. He would have the doctrine of the gospel be familiarly known by them. Hence we may infer by what spirit those are actuated in the present day, who cruelly interdict the Christian people from making use of it, and furiously vociferate, that no pestilence is more to be dreaded, than that the reading of the Scriptures should be thrown open to the common people. For, unquestionably, Paul here addresses men and women of all ranks; nor would he simply have them take a slight taste merely of the word of Christ, but exhorts that it should dwell in them; that is, that it should have a settled abode, and that largely, that they may make it their aim to advance and in crease more and more every day. As, however, the desire of learning is extravagant on the part of many, while they pervert the word of the Lord for their own ambition, or for vain curiosity, or in some way corrupt it, he on this account adds, in all wisdom—that, being instructed by it, we may be wise as we ought to be.
Farther, he gives a short definition of this wisdom—that the Colossians teach one another. Teaching is taken here to mean profitable instruction, which tends to edification, as in Romans 12:7—He that teacheth, on teaching; also in Timothy—“All Scripture is profitable for teaching.” (2 Tim. 3:16.) This is the true use of Christ’s word. As, however, doctrine is sometimes in itself cold, and, as one says, when it is simply shewn what is right, virtue is praised2 and left to starve, he adds at the same time admonition, which is, as it were, a confirmation of doctrine and incitement to it. Nor does he mean that the word of Christ ought to be of benefit merely to individuals, that they may teach themselves, but he requires mutual teaching and admonition.
Psalms, hymns. He does not restrict the word of Christ to these particular departments, but rather intimates that all our communications should be adapted to edification, that even those which tend to hilarity may have no empty savour. “Leave to unbelievers that foolish delight which they take from ludicrous and frivolous jests and witticisms; and let your communications, not merely those that are grave, but those also that are joyful and exhilarating, contain something profitable. In place of their obscene, or at least barely modest and decent songs, it becomes you to make use of hymns and songs that sound forth God’s praise.” Farther, under these three terms he includes all kinds of songs. They are commonly distinguished in this way—that a psalm is that, in the singing of which some musical instrument besides the tongue is made use of: a hymn is properly a song of praise, whether it be sung simply with the voice or otherwise; while an ode contains not merely praises, but exhortations and other matters. He would have the songs of Christians, however, to be spiritual, not made up of frivolities and worthless trifles. For this has a connection with his argument.
The clause, in grace, Chrysostom explains in different ways. I, however, take it simply, as also afterwards, in chapter 4:6, where he says, “Let your speech be seasoned with salt, in grace,” that is, by way of a dexterity that may be agreeable, and may please the hearers by its profitableness, so that it may be opposed to buffoonery and similar trifles.
Singing in your hearts. This relates to disposition; for as we ought to stir up others, so we ought also to sing from the heart, that there may not be merely an external sound with the mouth. At the same time, we must not understand it as though he would have every one sing inwardly to himself, but he would have both conjoined, provided the heart goes before the tongue.
Ver. 16. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.—“The word of Christ” is the word which He has spoken and caused to be proclaimed (1 Thess. 1:8; 4:15; 2 Thess. 3:1), and which communicates the inward peace, directing and leading to right conduct toward the brethren: “the word through which ye were called” (Bengel); elsewhere called “the word of God” (1:25; 1 Cor. 14:36; 2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2) from its highest cause, “of truth” (Eph. 1:5, 13) from its purport, “of life” (Phil. 2:16) from its effect.But it must have a permanent locality, “as in a temple” (Bengel): let it dwell “among you,” as the context demands. It is not=“in your hearts.” (ver. 15) “in you” (Theodoret, Beza and others). [Eadie: “within you;” Meyer, Alford : in you as a church, which seems to be Braune’s view. Preferable on the whole, and suggestive of the truth, that want of general diffusion of the word of Christ among the people “richly,” much prevents their obeying the following precept.—R.] “Richly” relates to substance, hence, not used in a stunted, abbreviated eclectic fashion. [“Not with a scanty foothold, but with a large and liberal occupancy” (Eadie).—R.] It does not refer to frequency of use, or to the members of the Church=among many (Schenkel).
In all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.—[“In all wisdom” is joined with what follows. The construction is thus rendered more harmonious; the preceding clause has its emphatic adverb last, and the two qualifying participial clauses each begin with an adverbial phrase of manner. Eadie, following the pointing of Tischendorf, joins “psalms,” etc., with the second clause, but this destroys the correspondence, while the objection he urges, in regard to psalms and hymns as the material of instruction, is not in keeping with his own quotation from Basil’s encomium on the Psalms—R.] The participles, which are to be joined with “you” in the nominative, just as in Eph. 4:1–3 (Winer’s Gram. p. 532), refer to the application and use of the word present among them, describe the manner in which the word dwells among them. This explains “speaking to yourselves” (Eph. 5:19). The first verb indicates the intellectual, the other the moral reference. To both belong the definition of manner “in all wisdom” (comp. 1:28), which is placed first emphatically, and the asyndetic datives which define the means to be used [or “the vehicle in which” the teaching and admonishing was communicated (Meyer).—R.]. These means act the more instructively and effectively, the more familiar one is with them, for the hymn grows out of the word of God and of Christ, and these grow into such songs, as the Bible, the Psalter and Church history attest. Tertullian : Post aquam mannalem et lumina, ut quisque de scripturis sacris vel proprio ingenio potest, provocatur in medium canere. Comp. Eph. 5:19. The reference is to public worship, to the use of the word of Christ and singing at the agapæ and in the family circle; it should not be limited to the latter (Meyer).
In grace singing in your hearts to God.—[Braune adopts the reading ἐν χάριτι, and therefore renders “in gratitude” [Dankbarkeit), but with Lachmann, Tischendorf, Meyer, Alford, Ellicott, Wordsworth, it is better to retain the well supported article: τῇ χάριτι then refers to Divine grace, the element to which the singing was to be circumscribed,—that which should accompany it.—R.] The clause corresponds in its structure with the foregoing; “in all wisdom,”—“in grace,” the participles, then the closer definition; they are coördinate therefore. It is altogether improper to join both with “be ye thankful,” making “let the word. richly” parenthetical, or to connect “in psalms,” etc., with this clause (Schenkel), on the ground that singing instruction is inconceivable, or to join ἐν χάριτι with πνευματικαῖς (Luther: spiritual, lovely songs). Since “singing” on account of “in your hearts” (see ver. 15) must be referred to something internal, and “to God” indicates its direction, “in grace” must be a closer definition of the singing; “in gratitude,” as 1 Cor. 10:30. The meaning of χάρις is like gratia. It cannot mean “in gracefulness” (4:6; Eph. 4:29; Erasmus, Schenkel), nor in grace, nor with the article: in the grace impelling thereto (Chrysostom, Meyer). [If the article be retained, this is undoubtedly the meaning; not only because usus loquendi favors such a view, but because the other meaning: “thankfully” would be a flat and unmeaning anticipation of “giving thanks” below (Alford).—R.] The opinion that the phrase “in your hearts” refers to the existing abuse of singing with the mouth (Theofhylact) is not justified, since the reading is not τῇκαρδιᾴ, and the tone which accompanied instruction is here noted. [Yet the former clause seems to refer to singing with the mouth, and this to that “in the silence of the heart” (Meyer).—R.]
The Word of Christ (Col. 3:16)
This means, of course, the Word of God. The false teachers came to Colossae with man-made traditions, religious rules, and human philosophies. They tried to harmonize God’s Word with their teachings, but they could not succeed. God’s Word always magnifies Jesus Christ.
It was not the word of false teachers that brought salvation to the Colossians; it was the Word of the truth of the Gospel (Col. 1:5). This same Word gives us life and sustains and strengthens us (1 Peter 1:22–2:3).
The Word will transform our lives if we will but permit it to “dwell” in us richly. The word dwell means “to feel at home.” If we have experienced the grace and the peace of Christ, then the Word of Christ will feel at home in our hearts. We will discover how rich the Word is with spiritual treasures that give value to our lives.
However, we must not think that Paul wrote this only to individual Christians; for he directed it to the entire church body. “Let the Word of Christ dwell among you” is a possible translation. As it dwells richly in each member of the church, it will dwell richly in the church fellowship.
There is a danger today, as there was in Paul’s day, that local churches minimize the Word of God. There seems to be a lack of simple Bible teaching in Sunday School classes and pulpits. Far more interest is shown in movies, musical performances, and various entertainments than in God’s Word. Many saved people cannot honestly say that God’s Word dwells in their hearts richly because they do not take time to read, study, and memorize it.
There is (according to Paul) a definite relationship between our knowledge of the Bible and our expression of worship in song. One way we teach and encourage ourselves and others is through the singing of the Word of God. But if we do not know the Bible and understand it, we cannot honestly sing it from our hearts.
Perhaps this “poverty of Scripture” in our churches is one cause of the abundance of unbiblical songs that we have today. A singer has no more right to sing a lie than a preacher has to preach a lie. The great songs of the faith were, for the most part, written by believers who knew the doctrines of the Word of God. Many so-called “Christian songs” today are written by people with little or no knowledge of the Word of God. It is a dangerous thing to separate the praise of God from the Word of God.
Psalms were, of course, the songs taken from the Old Testament. For centuries, the churches in the English-speaking world sang only metrical versions of the Psalms. I am glad to see today a return to the singing of Scripture, especially the Psalms. Hymns were songs of praise to God written by believers but not taken from the Psalms. The church today has a rich heritage of hymnody which, I fear, is being neglected. Spiritual songs were expressions of Bible truth other than in psalms and hymns. When we sing a hymn, we address the Lord; when we sing a spiritual song, we address each other.
Paul described a local church worship service (1 Cor. 14:26; Col. 3:16). Note that the believer sings to himself as well as to the other believers and to the Lord. Our singing must be from our hearts and not just our lips. But if the Word of God is not in our hearts, we cannot sing from our hearts. This shows how important it is to know the Word of God, for it enriches our public and private worship of God.
Our singing must be with grace. This does not mean “singing in a gracious way,” but singing because we have God’s grace in our hearts. It takes grace to sing when we are in pain, or when circumstances seem to be against us. It certainly took grace for Paul and Silas to sing in that Philippian prison (Acts 16:22–25). Our singing must not be a display of fleshly talent; it must be a demonstration of the grace of God in our hearts.
Someone has said that a successful Christian life involves attention to three books: God’s Book, the Bible; the pocketbook; and the hymn book. I agree. I often use a hymnal in my devotional time, to help express my praise to God. As a believer grows in his knowledge of the Word, he will want to grow in his expression of praise. He will learn to appreciate the great hymns of the church, the Gospel songs, and the spiritual songs that teach spiritual truths. To sing only the elementary songs of the faith is to rob himself of spiritual enrichment.
Before we leave this section, we should notice an important parallel with Ephesians 5:18–6:9. In his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul emphasized being filled with the Spirit; in his Letter to the Colossians, he emphasized being filled with the Word. But the evidences of this spiritual fullness are the same! How can we tell if a believer is filled with the Spirit? He is joyful, thankful, and submissive (Eph. 5:19–21); all of this shows up in his relationships in the home and on the job (Eph. 5:22–6:9). How can we tell if a believer is filled with the Word of God? He is joyful, thankful, and submissive (Col. 3:16–4:1).
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